Feeling the Greatest in Las Vegas

Just about everything in Vegas is fake. The Beatles that rock out during LOVE every night at the Mirage; the statues of Caesar around his “Palace”; the waterfalls that surround the pools; even a few of the top floors of the Venetian are just tarp painted to make the building look taller than it really is. The more I think about it, the more I wonder how the city first came up as the destination for our Persian family reunion.


One thing (possibly the only thing) about Vegas that isn’t fake is the food. Most of it is over the top and it’s all certainly pricey, but it’s also good. With a slew of celebrity chef restaurants that probably haven’t seen their namesakes in months and the knowledge that most of the discerning palates are a bit drunk, I didn’t know what my snobby self was getting into. Luckily, as usual, I was wrong.


The first bite I took that highlighted how well Vegas does food was my first afternoon there. I stepped into Pantry famished and stepped out ready to gain twenty pounds. What better way to celebrate the end of a morning body wrap? Not too concerned about the fact that I’d be in a bathing suit in a couple of hours, I finished off the tender Corned Beef Hash in under twenty minutes. That might not seem like much of a feat, but served in a skillet the size of my head and underneath two poached eggs, it was more than my fair share of breakfast food. It was my first taste of Vegas excess.


Though breakfast seems ideal for those nursing hangovers, dinner was where this city really won my heart. Bouchon did everything well, from the over-the-top cheese boards to my Moules au Safran with a broth so nuanced I had to stop myself from tilting my head back and finishing the goodness in a few gulps. It was one of those places where you have to take multiple “one last bite’s,” even when you’ve gorged yourself and cannot fathom something else passing through your lips. To balance out the decadence of the French options, hotels like the Cosmopolitan have restaurants like Jaleo. As a tapas restaurant, getting two or three plates at a time and ordering until you’ve tried a lot and are satisfied is the way to go. With classic Vegas showiness, some dishes like the Presa ibérica crudo ahumado come out under a vase filled with fragrant smoke while the Croquetas de pollo are served in a worn-down sneaker. Still, I was confident enough in the quality behind this show to eat raw smoked pork. By the time I finished with the perfectly charred veggies decorated with a fiery-acidic sauce, I was planning a trip to Jaleo in D.C. Vegas had won me over.


Of course, you can’t leave Vegas without experiencing the booze. While I happily slurped down mojitos poolside, there were dozens of other options, including the classic Manhattan. Honestly, I loathe Manhattans. I truly don’t understand what most people see in whisky and bourbon; they overpower everything in a cocktail and make me gag when sipped on ice. Give me gin any day. However, I would drink the Manhattan served at Heritage Steak any time of day. I don’t know if the quality of alcohol was better or the bartender just knew what he was doing, but I do know what clinched it for me was the smoked maraschino syrup. It added a depth to the alcohol of which I didn’t know dark liquor was capable. As the final drink of my trip, it felt like a prize for spending the whole say site seeing in the hot desert. Who knew the best Manhattan could be found closer to the West Coast? Now that I think about it, maybe all that heat went to my head and this drink was actually a mirage?


I would go back to Vegas for a lot of reasons. It’s cheesy and everybody drinks much more than they should and there are way too many college kids, but it’s kind of great for a vacation where you want to be wowed and not think too much. Don’t go looking to be enlightened or to experience Europe in America. Go to hang by the pool, visit the desert, and then blow all your money after an amazing meal.

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Foodie Fashion: Happy Hour Style

There are several things that my coworkers know about me: I take on those difficult customer service issues, I’m sarcastic, and I like my alcoholic beverages. Now, while I occasionally worry about the people I work with knowing I spend my free time drinking, most of them drink discounted sweet red wine, so I judge them just as much as they judge me.


Just in case anyone wonders where my loyalties lie, two years ago I was gifted one of my favorite dresses. Named the Too Much Fun Dress in Happy Hour, this dress is my basic essence.


Decorated with coup glasses, liqueur bottles, and wine, the pattern is busy enough so I can wear it to work without raising too many eyebrows and then ditch my blazer and wear it out to my favorite bars during its namesake happy hour.The cotton lining also makes it just heavy enough to wear in the winter if paired with some tights and a jacket. It’s one of my favorite dresses to wear all year round.


While the dress is no longer available, Modcloth has a whole host of foodie options for those who like dressing like a cupcake as much as they like eating them. Oh, and for those wondering what that purple worthy of a comic book is on my lips is, it’s my favorite Tarte lip paint called ‘YASSSS’, which has nothing to do with food, but is too fun to completely ignore. Now, I’m off to go make a cocktail, though I can guarantee you that since it’s my day off, I’ll be sipping it in my PJs, and not a dress like this. Cheers.

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WineStudio: A Win with the Australians

Cute critters. That’s what a majority of people think of when discussing Australian wines. Unfortunately, that also comes with an association with poor quality. For those of us willing to broaden our horizons though, there is PROTOCOL Wine Studio. I participated in my first #WineStudio tasting in November of 2015, a little over a year ago now, and I am so glad I did. I discovered a passion for wine pretty quickly after turning 21, but as most wine clubs, tastings, and chats skew toward the over-40 crowd, I always felt out of the loop. I didn’t own seventy different tasting glasses nor had I tasted anything made before the year in which I was born. I was just a little different than everyone else.


After some time doubting everything that came out of my mouth, I was like Spider-Man after defeating the Green Goblin, ready to take charge. I had tasted more, expanded my horizons, and felled some of the misconceptions I had about wine regions. However, that doesn’t mean I’ve outgrown #WineStudio. This program, a monthly Twitter session on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on the east coast, is meant to bring together wine makes, enthusiasts, and just about anyone else with an interest in wine. I’ve tried Chardonnays, wines of Spain, and bottles filled with sparkling juice, but for October, it was all about Australia and Two Hands Wines. Driven to create quality, the winery focuses mainly on Shiraz and sources grapes from areas with a proven track record like the Barossa Valley. This isn’t mass-produced juice; it’s a labor of love that I only understood after making my way through these samples.


Though most of the wines we’d be trying were Shiraz, a grape I can only pronounce like a Persian, I kicked off that month’s #WineStudio with the only Cabernet Sauvignon in the bunch. Aptly named, the 2015 Sexy Beast was a complex wine that packed a punch. While it wasn’t the most intense Cabernet I’ve ever had, there were a lot of layers in this bottle, including pepper, dark red fruits, and some dry earthiness. The pork shanks with mushrooms that I inhaled while gracefully sipping this option mellowed out the more peppery notes, and made it a pairing I would happily try again. With a SRP of $36, it’s the kind of wine I’d buy a couple of and pull out for friends who appreciate something a little special. If you are rolling in more dough than my twenty-something self, buy a case or two and then float a few my way.


After the Sexy Beast, I chose the opposite end of the name spectrum and opted for the 2014 Angel’s Share Shiraz. As a Medieval literature and history nerd, I was all about this one. Apparently Medieval winemakers thought that angels watched over the winemaking process and took their share, which is how they accounted for the evaporated wine in their oak barrels. The inky purple of this wine seemed like something Maleficent would cloak herself in, and the powerful flavors of dark berries and lavender fulfilled the promises made by the color. It was another one of which I’d pick up a few at a SRP of $36, and if you’re looking for a step up from your standard Shiraz, you should too.


Of the funkier variety was the 2014 Gnarly Dudes Shiraz, a weightier option compared to the Angel’s Share. Although the first Shiraz of this bunch was decadent and fulfilled my constant search for deep flavors, this one was the bottle to open on a frigid winter night. Deep ruby red, spicy, smoky, and full of blackberries, I felt like I should have had a lamb leg in one hand and been drinking out of a bejeweled goblet. Maybe drink this one while watching the next season of Game of Thrones? Let me know how that works out.


For those looking for something with a story behind it, Two Hands’ Garden Series is for you. Meant to highlight the best Shiraz regions of Australia, the 2014 Bella’s Garden Shiraz was the first that I tried from this series. With deep tobacco notes on the nose, this bottle also surprisingly had some of those rich floral elements I found in the Angel’s Share. It was the best of both worlds. It was a big wine, and possibly the most layered of the five we tried. The SRP of $69 demands you spend some time over this one just as much as the complex flavors do, so please don’t open this one at home alone, share it with friends at your favorite BYOB and talk about it.


Saving the best for last, I opened the 2014 Lily’s Garden Shiraz, a bottle than contained many of the elements I’ve come to associate with this grape while also a bit softer than some of the other bottles I tried. Leathery yet silky, earthy yet full of sweet berries, this bottle showed off everything the McLaren Vale has to offer. Unlike the bottle I suggested drinking while watching the Mother of Dragons, I’d open this one in a cozy library in front of a fireplace. At $69 a pop, it’s not the cheapest wine out there, but I’ve done cheap Australian wine before, and I don’t mind making the splurge for something at this standard, even if it is a little outside my standard Wednesday night wine budget.


The wine of Australia is not just the kind you buy when throwing a big party for people who only drink wine once all of liquor is gone. So take a break from the adorable animals on your usual Australian bottles, and discover what else this area has to offer. The only thing you’ll regret is that you didn’t give Australia a real shot sooner.

These wines were kindly provided to me by the winery listed above, but all opinions are my own. 

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Dinner at Papa Grandes (Fenwick Island, DE)

I’m a Maryland girl. That means I know a lot about things like Old Bay, crab cakes, and snow cones, but that my knowledge is lacking in areas such as authentic Mexican food and what a real Texas steak should taste like. However, I recently got back from my first trip to L.A. and one of my many demands was to eat all of the tacos. Now that I’ve had my experience enjoying food purchased in a gas station parking lot, I think I have a better idea of what’s real and what’s imagined up by the United States. Papa Grande’s, a SoDel concept in Fenwick, falls somewhere in the middle.


Like most beach spots, if you’re stopping by sometime between June and the first week of September, be prepared for an hour or more wait. Since there are tacos and burritos on the menu, it can inch closer to two as this is a safe option for families who want options that children around ten will eat without a fight. Prepare to either eat at 5 or 9, as from my experience, there are few other options for summer dining here.


While I normally opt for corn tortillas filled with soft-shell crab or pork, the last time I stopped into this hotspot, I elected to try the special, a Deep Fried Catfish Burrito. Big enough for two, this burrito exploded with the fried fish, black beans, rice, and was accompanied with a side of fresh salsa. Digging in, the fish was a touch dry, but the glob of guacamole on top of the burrito helped. Their Short Rib Burrito, which is always on the menu and served with a healthy ladle of melty cheese on top, was more satisfying when I tried that, it’s the one I would order again. Either way, come with an appetite.


On the less authentically believable side were their Shaved Brussels Sprouts, a dish I could eat every day, but one that doesn’t exactly scream ‘MEXICO’ despite the pepitas and cojita mixed in with the greens. Thinly shaved and raw, this bowl of one of the less popular veggies had just the right amount of crunch. As a fan of conservatively dressed salads, the sweet corn vinaigrette was enough to keep my mouth from feeling like the Sahara while also allowing the vegetable to shine. So, maybe not a dish I’d find after a day visiting Tulum, but certainly good enough to order every time I vacation at the beach.


Of course, there are some standard favorites that I always recommend for those not willing to dive into the mysterious specials. If you like all things cheesy and bad for you, their Original Queso Fundido is an effective way to both clog all of your arteries and fulfill the desire for decadent appetizers. The chile dust and lime on this option elevate it from microwaved Velveeta, which is a win in my book. You also can’t stop into this spot without a few orders of the Street Corn. I could inhale three orders of it myself. The cojita cheese, the red chile dust, and the cilantro coat the sweet corn in a rich, creamy layer of herbaceous deliciousness. This is no buttery summer corn that’s overly salted, it’s so much more.


The food may not be tripe purchased off a food truck, but Papa Grande’s is my favorite way to scratch my itch for Mexican food around here. I appreciate what they try and do here, and I think you will too. I, for one, think this is the best time of year to enjoy the quieter beach atmosphere and take advantage of those off-season deals. So, after you drown yourself in gravy this weekend and are ready for something different, stop by Papa Grande’s. Mail me some churros on your way back!

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Thirsty Thursday: Berry Bundle

Now that we’re at the end of September, we’ve transitioned from strawberries and blueberries to apples and pumpkins. My favorite type of berry that ripens somewhere in between this sweet spot of fruit is the blackberry. For the past few years, I have parked at Weber’s Farm one day toward the end of summer with clean hands and bright eyes and left a few hours later with purple stains all over and a bunch of blackberries in my trunk. Normally I devour these babies over a few days on salads, in smoothies, or just on their own, but this year I experimented a bit and came up with a new cocktail with which my whole family was on board. This one could be tweaked to make a pitcher for friends, but I tend to make them one at a time as no one can every agree on one cocktail at once. If you’ve still got fresh berries around, I recommend whipping this one up before the Northern Hemisphere realizes it’s in autumn and this unusually hot weather goes away.

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Berry Bundle

Yield: 1 cocktail

2 oz. Deep Eddy Cranberry

1 1/2 oz. Chambord

1 oz. sweet and sour mix (recipe here)

sparkling wine

6-7 fresh blackberries

1. If you know early on that you’ll be making this cocktail, stick shaker and vodka in the freezer a few hours ahead of time to get it well chilled.

2. Once you’re ready to make your cocktail, place fresh blackberries in a tall glass. Muddle berries until they have a jammy texture.

3. Take your shaker out of the freezer. Fill up the shaker with chipped ice to keep it chilled while assembling your cocktail.

3. Measure out and pour Deep Eddy, Chambord, and sweet and sour mix into shaker. Cover shaker and shake well for five to ten seconds.

4. Fill tall cocktail glass with ice. Strain liquid into glass. Top off with sparkling wine. Stir. Enjoy.

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Finding the Wine Arena of Argentina

There are many things in which I am confident: my ability to finish a 500-page book in a day, the skill with which I can apply a liquid lipstick, and my capability of making an awesome cheese ball for holiday celebrations. Still, one thing about which I constantly question myself is wine.


I started exploring the world of wine soon after my twenty-first birthday. Two years in, and I still feel like Bambi among my wiser woodland neighbors. Despite feeling adrift at times, I have accepted that my knowledge of wine will never be complete and aim to tackle each bottle, book, and article as a new way in which to expand that knowledge. So when I was invited down to Rural Society in D.C. for a tasting of Ruca Malen wine, I made the easy decision to say yes; however, I was also nervous about how to hold my own against people I considered more legit than me. Like Rudy Kurniawan, I often feel like a fraud. However, a little bit of fear was an easy thing to overcome when it meant trying some new wines and learning a little bit about what Argentina has to offer.

Founded in 1998 by two Frenchmen, Ruca Malen isn’t just a company that strives to make great wine, it’s one that is passionate about the way wine is meant to be enjoyed with food and friends. The master behind these wines is Pablo Cueno, who joined Ruca Malen in 2006. Meeting him at Rural Society added depth to the whole event. His dedication to the winery was clear as he spoke about the desire to create wine that was meant for food, bottles of quality, and his hope to highlight the way the terroir of Argentina can yield great grapes. You can try a phenomenal wine and read a fact sheet to appreciate a winery, but when you talk to the winemaker and get a feel for what the winery is all about, that relationship between consumer and wine becomes so much deeper.


Luckily, once you get a feel for Ruca Malen and go out to find yourself a bottle, they aren’t asking you to drop hundreds of dollars on them. Each wine was a standout that offered something to discover. The 2015 Yauquen Torrontés was the bottle an acid lover could pick up with confidence when looking for something bright, vibrant, and youthful. Everyone at the table was immediately in love, and it was the perfect way to kick off an incredibly humid August day. It was also one of the most affordable quality bottles I’ve experienced with an SRP of $12.99. Also from their Yaunquen line was the 2014 Yaunquen Malbec, also around $12.99. It wasn’t bright like the white, but it was still invigorating, with an earthy characteristic to it. I even preferred it to their 2014 Ruca Malen Reserva Malbec, which was more elegant, but also fruitier than the first. I preferred the dry, spicy qualities of the Yaunquen Malbec, but the Reserva was still enjoyable. If you tend toward the more floral, fruity wines, pick up the Reserva at $18.99, or you could do what I did and try both to see just what magic Ruca Malen can do with the same type of grape.


While Malbec is well known and even Torrontés has appeared on more restaurant wine lists lately, this winery also has some more unusual options. The star of the tasting was the 2011 Kinien de Don Raul. As this was poured, I could feel the joy around the table rise. Limited edition, unique, and intense, this was the kind of wine any wine lover seeks out. At the tasting, I found dark berries, vanilla, and a dry start with a juicy finish. A blend of 64% Malbec, 15% Petit Verdot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Syrah, this bottle will set you back roughly $75, but as a special occasion bottle, you couldn’t choose much better. If you’re the kind of person who buys wines for a special occasion, you might also be the kind of person who would enjoy the NV Ruca Malen  Brut Sparkling Wine. Comprised of 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay, this wine had the tiniest bubbles that came to life with each sip. Dry with a yeasty quality that paired well with caramelly sweets, this was a bottle that I could have finished off on my own with no shame. Any sparkling wine lover should add this one to their queue and get ready to enjoy.


Though we tried five stellar wines, the sixth I would happily hand over the contents of my wallet for. Petit Verdot is my vice. Some people have sex, drugs, and rock and roll; I have this baby. I love the complexity and drool over the black fruits and violets that this intense wine promises. Ruca Malen first planted Petit Verdot in 2006, and while they produce under 40,000 bottles, it was the bottle I could fill a whole wine cellar with. Their 2013 Ruca Malen Reserva Petit Verdot is a steal at $18.99 SRP, especially since it’s one you could explore for hours due to the ripe red and black fruit and touch of rustic flavor in the glass. It was like digging into a bowl of mixed berries in a woodland oasis. Even though any of these bottles are worth more than their SRP, this was the one.


This tasting wasn’t just about the wine, although that was certainly why I signed up, it was also about the ways in which wine can pair with food to create a memorable experience. Rural Society’s chef and Chef Lucas from Ruca Malen paired together to create food that would authentically marry well with the wines, and they kind of knocked it out of the park. Not only did each tapa pair well with the wine that Cueno suggested trying, almost all of the food could be enjoyed with any of the bottles. The vinegary morrone montedito with anchovy and creamy goat cheese had lots of fun zing when paired with the 2015 Yauquen Torrontés, but was mellowed out by the woodsier 2014 Yaunquen Malbec. That held true for the savory, herbaceous morcilla, the earthy mushrooms, and almost every other bite we had that day. I didn’t just leave with a newfound appreciation of Argentinian wine, I also left with a desire to explore more Argentinian food.


As the afternoon came to an end and I found myself a little lightheaded from not wanting to waste any stellar wine, I was ready to hop on a plane to Argentina and gain a few pounds courtesy of Ruca Malen. It’s been a month since the tasting, and I miss these wines, and that, for me, is more of a reason to hunt them down again than any comprehensive fact sheet I’ve read.


For those in the D.C. area, you can find these wines at the retailers listed below:

Grand Cata – A Latin Wine Shop – 1550 7th Street NW Washington, DC

Cordial Craft Wine, Beer & Spirits – Union Market 1309 5th Street NE Washington, DC

S & R Wines & Spirits – 1015 18th Street NW Washington, DC

Dean & Deluca – 3276 M Street NW Washington, DC

Cork & Fork DC – 1522 14th Street NW Washington, DC

Paul’s Wine & Spirits – 5205 Wisconsin Avenue NW Washington, DC

These photos are not mine, but taken courtesy of the Ruca Malen Facebook page. I was invited to this tasting for free, but all opinions are my own.

Posted in Food, Restaurant, Washington D.C., Wine | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

WineStudio: Hey, Hey, Rosé

It’s humid and hot outside, people are getting together for picnics, and families are spending hours in traffic to sit by a pool. This can all only mean one thing, it’s time for Rosé. I’m guessing this is something everyone knows, but my friends at #WineStudio took it up a notch. PROTOCOL Wine brings people together every month on Twitter to discuss the world of wine and how it impacts us imbibers, so when they decided to tackle Rosé, everything from the age-ability to the Provençal style was covered. While many of my friends just think of this as a fun pink wine to drink once the temperature soars above eighty, it was clear through the discussion and the subsequent tasting that there was a lot more to it than that.


I can’t say that sustainable practices are something I actively seek out when buying a wine, but if I find something I like and it’s produced through sustainable winegrowing, I certainly appreciate it. On top of that, if the wine is made ethically and the SRP is $12, I feel like I’ve found the Chupacabra. So, if your ability to pick up on context clues is any good, you’ll know this first bottle I’m referencing is said Chupacabra. The 2015 Pedroncelli Rosé of Zinfandel was different from the fruity bottles the masses tend to go after. There were notes of raspberry and cranberry, but there was also a distinct quality of peppercorns. It came to life as it warmed, with strawberry flavors rounding out the slightly bitter edge. At $12 a bottle, it was not the life changing Rosé some may want, but it was fantastic for what it was. This might not be a selling point to all of you, but it was perfect for watching trashy TV with my friends while devouring snacks, and since that’s pretty much the activity that my life revolves around, I was all about it.


The final wine of the month was the 2015 Angels & Cowboys Rosé from Sonoma County. While I wanted to paint my entire home in that velvety pink of the Pedroncelli, this bottle fell on the other end of the spectrum by rocking a blush pink color. The color was so pale it reminded me of a piece of clothing that had been left out in the sun, bleached of most color with only a hint of what it was before. Less berry and more citrus like grapefruit to be found in this bottle, it was a lighter style that was a blend of Grenache Rouge, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Grenache Blanc. These grapes were harvested specifically to become Rosé, and for those looking for something fresh with nice minerality, pick this one up because of bright flavors and the $14.99 SRP.


If one thing was clear at the end of this session it was that these weren’t the typical Rosé you’d find on a hastily put together wine list, they were ones that true lovers should seek out. Affordable selections made by wineries that truly care about making a solid wine, these bottles would appeal to anyone drawn to wineries for their stories, their production methods, or just simply for the great wine they put out. And that pretty much covers all of the basics that drinkers look for, right?

These wines were kindly provided to me by the companies listed above, but all opinions are my own. 

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